I bought a new car recently. It came with lots of safety features, like a rear-view camera, blind-spot monitoring, and lane departure warning. There is even a voice that tells me when I’m approaching a red light or speed camera. The day after we bought the car, my husband and I were driving on a city street, approaching an intersection, when the voice boomed out over my left shoulder, “Red light camera ahead! Reduce your speed!” While I focused on driving, my husband quickly started pushing buttons looking for a way to turn down the volume of the mysterious voice which had seemingly come from nowhere.
It’s been calmer in the car since the volume was reduced on the “voice of doom,” as I like to call it. It continues to annoy me, though, as it warns of red light cameras even if the traffic light is green and I’m driving at or under the speed limit. It also warns of speed cameras in a school zone near our house, even though we’re only required to reduce our speed in the area if a red light is blinking. It’s summer. School’s out. The lights aren’t blinking. But my car keeps warning me, “Speed camera ahead. Reduce your speed. Reduce your speed.”
We’ve told a few people about the ever-lurking “voice of doom” in our car. People laugh, and then they say, “Is there a way to turn it off?” I’m sure there is—or at least turn the volume down so low we can’t hear it—but at some point that voice may come in very handy. One day, I may be driving down a street I’m not familiar with and I might miss a school zone sign or think I’m close enough to an intersection when a traffic light turns yellow. Knowing there’s a camera ahead that will catch me if I go through the school zone too fast or go through the light too late could keep me from an expensive traffic ticket or a more expensive accident.
So I listen to the voice in my car, even when I’m fully aware of my surroundings and I know I’m doing the right things. It doesn’t hurt to be reminded that there are important laws I should keep in mind and there will be consequences if I don’t.
There are other voices in my life I need to listen to—my conscience, the advice of friends and family, the promptings of the Holy Spirit. It’s easy to tune them all out. It’s easy to relax and say, “I know what I’m doing. This isn’t going to hurt me.” Usually, I do know what I’m doing. But there’s always a chance that I might make a decision too fast. I might miss a warning sign. I might be distracted by something else in my life and end up in dangerous territory without even knowing how I got there.
That’s why I need to keep listening to the warning voices in my life. Even if they’re annoying. And if you’re ever uncertain about which voice to listen to, when people are giving you conflicting advice and direction, listen to these important words above all the others:
“Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.” Isaiah 8:20
I love baking shows like Cake Wars, The Great British Baking Show, and Holiday Baking Championship. I enjoy watching the competitors strive to create something beautiful and tasty, and I’m thrilled when they succeed. I like to bake, too, but I’ve never had the time or inclination to perfect my skills and make anything as beautiful or as complicated as the masterpieces created on these shows.
That’s why I like the new Netflix show, Nailed It. This is a show I could actually be on because it’s for bad bakers – or at least inexperienced ones. IMBD describes the show this way: “Home bakers with a terrible track record take a crack at re-creating edible masterpieces for a $10,000 prize. It's part reality contest, part hot mess.” While the original masterpieces are beautiful to behold, the re-creations are usually pretty funny (if not just sad).
Like most baking shows, the competitors face a distinct disadvantage in their quest to make something beautiful. They have to do their work in a short period of time. It’s bad enough that the bakers in Nailed it lack any kind of training and have little or no experience in cake decorating. They’re also asked to re-create something that probably took an accomplished cake artist many hours, or even days, to make. Patience is not a virtue in these shows. It’s a luxury no one can afford.
I was reminded this week of the importance of patience in finding and following God’s will for our lives. I want to know God’s will now. I want to get started on the next task. I want to have a finished product ready to serve up by dinner time. And I don’t understand why, so much of the time, I can’t discern God’s leading in my life telling me what to do and how to do it.
Part of the problem may be that I forget to ask for instructions – like the contestant in one episode of Nailed It who went through the first challenge never turning on the tablet at his workstation that contained the recipe for the cake he was supposed to make. The bigger problem for me, though, is just not being patient. I have trouble letting God work in his own time and in his own way. So it’s no wonder I mess up so often.
God isn’t interested in making a half-hearted, barely-recognizable, rushed-through, re-creation of something else in my life. He’s making an original masterpiece, lovingly thought out, painstakingly assembled, with attention to every detail. I can join him in that work, patiently waiting for directions, learning by watching, making mistakes and starting over, or I can rush through on my own and end up with an unappealing mess.
It’s really not that hard to choose.
“In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:4-6
I was reminded of something important today. It’s a simple truth, but one that can sometimes be hard to grasp—God loves me. He loves me just the way I am, no matter what I’m doing right now, and no matter what I’m not doing. God just loves me.
I’ve always been a procrastinator. I commit myself to do something, but it’s often hard to follow through and complete the task. Sometimes I get angry with myself because I’m not accomplishing everything I think I should. I picture God looking over my shoulder, shaking his head impatiently because I’m not getting enough done. I even start my prayers at night saying, “This was a good day, Lord” because of what I accomplished, or “This was a bad day, Lord” because I fell behind in my work.
What a sad way to live!
I’m sure I’m not the only person who gets caught up in the idea of working for the Lord. We read about the unfaithful servant in Matthew 25 who was reprimanded for not making good use of the talents he was given. In the same chapter we see people being judged for not feeding the poor, being gracious to strangers, or visiting prisoners. In the Bible we’re given list after list of things we should do and things we shouldn’t do. It’s very easy to think we somehow have to earn God’s love and acceptance.
We know that salvation comes from faith, not works. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:9). But what about after we’re saved? Does God have a list of things we have to accomplish to be good children? Is he angry when we don’t work hard enough, or accomplish enough, or do some specific thing he wants us to do?
After many years of wrestling with these questions, I’ve come to a conclusion. God does want us to obey his commands and do good works, but not because of what he wants us to accomplish. Rather, it’s what he wants to accomplish in us. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 3:20 adds, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” You see, God is doing a good work, creating something of eternal value, and you are that work!
As it says in Isaiah 64:8: “Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”
I love to watch hand-thrown pottery being made. What starts out as a lump of hard clay is warmed and softened in the potter’s hand as it spins on a plate. The clay has to stay warm and pliable, and it has to keep moving, to become the finished product the potter has in mind. The finished pot might be used to hold food or water, or fresh flowers, or maybe even gold and silver, but the potter will always have a special place in his heart for the pot itself. It’s the work of his hands, and it has great value to him apart from the work the pot does.
So today, if you’re stressed out about having too much to do, or you’re trying to do something that seems too big or too difficult, or perhaps you’re wondering if God even has a purpose for you, take a deep breath. Thank God for working in your life. Then loosen up, relax your shoulders, and be the warm, moldable piece of clay God wants you to be. Whatever good work you’re trying to do today isn’t as important as the good work God is doing in you. He isn’t waiting up in heaven to yell at you for missed opportunities or undone work, he’s anxious to show you off as the special, unique, and much loved work of art you are.
Today is “Arizona Gives Day” – a day when nearly every non-profit in the state is sending emails and letters asking for donations. Many non-profits exist almost entirely on donations, so they have to make the most of this opportunity to reach out and touch your hearts – and wallets.
I came across an old blog post of mine from several years back that I am posting again today because of its relevance to “Arizona Gives Day.” I hope as you read it you will be encouraged to do some giving of your own. Perhaps you will even see how much God has blessed you as you look back on how things were just seven years ago.
April 1, 2009:
I’m depressed today. I have to admit it. All around me I see signs of an ailing economy. Businesses are closing, and people everywhere are strained, anxious, and barely holding on to a shred of hope that things will eventually get better.
This weekend, I’ll be participating in a golf-a-thon to raise money for a Christian food bank in my community. Each member of the board of directors (myself included) has been challenged to obtain pledges in the amount of $7500 for the event. I’ve been asking for pledges from friends and acquaintances. So far, I’ve gotten five pledges, totaling $500. “It’s the economy,” people say. “It’s not a good year for giving to others.”
Unfortunately, it’s been a very good year for the food bank, at least as far as their clients are concerned. The number of people needing help from the charity has doubled and is on the way to tripling. But where the food is going to come from, I just don’t know.
These are hard times, and it’s understandable for people to be cautious in how they spend their money. If someone doesn’t have a job, they might not know how they’re going to make their next house payment or pay for food. People who do have jobs are probably wondering how long that might last. Companies are cutting employees and tightening their budgets to stay afloat. State and local governments are cutting back services and raising fees to keep from drowning in red ink. Property values and investments have shrunk to almost nothing.
“This isn’t a good year,” people say. ‘“I’ll try to give next time.”
But I can’t help but ask, when has it ever been a bad year for God? When has he ever been stopped by circumstances beyond his control or had to scale back his mercy and love because the times were hard? Is it not in the darkest hours that his light can shine brightest?
Okay, I know that sounds trite and it might not be a great comfort to someone holding a pink slip in their hand. But before you climb into a hole of depression and hoard all your worldly wealth to sustain you for the future, just remember this: God rewards those who are faithful. He gives his love and mercy to those who give their love and mercy to others in his name.
Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me…. Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:34-36, 40)
I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to let an unhealthy economy keep me from my eternal reward. God is faithful—always! I’m going to do my best to be faithful today, too.
A lot has been said in the news and editorials over the past months and years about building a wall to protect the southern borders of the United States from illegal immigrants. The rhetoric in the current election wars has been so strong that Pope Francis called out Donald Trump and said his position on immigration is not Christian. “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the gospel,” the Pope told reporters. Trump was quick to point out that the Vatican is completely surrounded by “massive walls” and proclaimed, “No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man's religion or faith.”
One thing about walls is that they define people – you belong on one side of the wall or the other. America, which was once considered the melting pot of the nations, has become a nation of walls. We are all about the labels. We use them to define ourselves, and we use them to define others. Sometimes we use labels to demean and humiliate others. Sometimes we use them out of political correctness. Most often we use them to simplify the complex nature of our multicultural, multigenerational, multilingual nation.
For the most part, I think labels do more harm than good. When we build walls between groups of people with the words we use to label and compartmentalize them, we create an “us” versus “them” mentality which doesn’t need to exist. Another harm of using labels is that we often group together behind one wall people who are very disparate in what they think and how they act. Over time, a label can even lose its original meaning when it is thoughtlessly applied to too many different people.
To the Pope, being “Christian” means (at least in part) building bridges between people instead of walls. He says Donald Trump is not “Christian” based on this definition. Trump says he is a “Christian,” although he refuses to define the word. “Evangelical Christians” are big supporters of Donald Trump according to national opinion polls, but the polls define that term differently than many committed followers of Jesus would like to see it used. Some Evangelical Christians are even looking for a new label to distinguish themselves from those who hold very different views. For now, they remain rounded up behind the massive walls of “Christianity” with those who are all about building walls and others who want to see all the walls come down.
As much as I dislike walls between people, I have to recognize the necessary existence of one. There is a wall, not made of human hands or defined by human labels, which separates the forgiven and redeemed children of God from the rest of the world. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Jesus called his followers “sheep” who knew his voice. “Very truly,” he said, “I am the gate for the sheep, … whoever enters through me will be saved” (John 10:7-9). The Bible also says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Many who call themselves Christians recognize this wall and are safe inside its walls. Others are not. That is an unfortunate truth. Even within the sheep-fold of true Christianity are those who fail to act the way Jesus calls his followers to act – with love, forgiveness, and grace. That is also unfortunate. It makes it very difficult to be certain of who is on our side of the wall and who is not. So, in a way, Trump is right, and we need to be careful when using the labels of “Christian” or “Evangelical” when speaking of other people or groups.
But whatever label you use to describe yourself, you can be certain that God knows your heart and he knows which side of the wall you are on. If you have never entered into the sheep-fold through faith in Jesus Christ, don’t despair. The gate is unlocked, and all are invited to enter.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Two days ago I came home from a week-long writers’ conference. I left the peace and quiet of a beautiful redwoods setting where I had gone a week without turning on my computer or even watching a TV. I arrived at home in time to watch the evening news, which was still filled with the terrible images of the terrorist attacks in Brussels where at least 30 people had died and many more were injured.
A family appeared on the news, sobbing happy tears because they had just heard from their son in Brussels and he was alright. Other stories were told of Americans who were caught up in the attacks and jumped in to help others. I’m sure just seeing their faces on TV and hearing their voices gave great comfort to their loved ones at home. I thought of my own husband, in another country at that moment attending a conference. I thought of my daughter, living in New York City, where security around tourist and transportation sites had already been tightened. I wanted to know they were safe too.
In times of great distress, we find out what really matters to us. Our peace is shattered for a time, and we think, “If I just could know my husband is okay…” “If I just could see my child again…” “If I could just get through this and get home again….” We all have someone or something that makes us feel safe, or whole, or happy, and the thought of losing that person or thing terrifies us.
It reminds me of when my daughter was two years old and had to have a minor surgical procedure. She was so scared when they took her away from us to begin the procedure. Sometime later, a nurse came to tell us the procedure went well and our little girl was fine. She had woken up and started to cry, but then she saw the two stuffed animals we had brought along for her. She gathered one in each arm, smiled, and went back to sleep.
It reminds me of the words of Jesus, too. He warned his disciples that to follow him meant giving up a comfortable place to live (Luke 9:57-58). It meant walking away from family (Luke 9:61-62), walking away from work (Matthew 4:18-20), giving away our treasure (Mark 10:17-22). Not everyone who follows Jesus is called to walk the same path, but we are all called to hold lightly to the things of this world so we can hold tightly to the hand of our Lord and Savior.
Today is a good day to take inventory. What are you holding onto? What are you afraid to lose? What is it you think you need? Close your eyes for a moment, open your hands, and lift them up to Jesus. Listen to him say, “I am all you need.” Trust him in this moment. And the next time that terror or tragedy strike, reach first for Jesus. When disappointment falls like a shadow, reach for Jesus. When fear clouds your view, reach for Jesus. He really is all you need.
Have you ever felt tired – so tired you don’t think you can keep your eyes open a moment longer? Have you ever felt angry? Confused? Lost? Unhappy? Frightened? Ready to quit whatever you’re doing because it’s too hard or too frustrating or too painful?
Of course you have.
We’re all human. We have human feelings and human limitations. We make mistakes. We make poor choices. We give up when we should hang on. We turn back when we should press on. We feel guilty and unworthy because of our failures and promise never to fail again. But we do fail again. And again. And again.
One of the most epic failures of all time is recorded in the Bible, not just once but four times. All four of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life tell the story of Peter, one of Jesus’ closest disciples and friends, denying repeatedly that he knew Jesus just when it seemed Jesus needed him the most.
“This man was with him.”
“Woman, I don’t know him.”
“You also are one of them.”
“Man, I am not!”
“Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.”
“Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
And then the rooster crowed.
I can imagine what Peter felt at that moment because I have been there myself, staring failure in the face. I may have never said in words “I don’t know Jesus,” but my actions often say it for me. When I’m angry or pouty about not getting my way, my actions say, “I don’t know Jesus.” When I’m frustrated and hopeless and say, “I can’t do this anymore,” I’m really saying, “I don’t know Jesus.” When I’m frightened by the daily news of violence and despair in the world, I’m saying, “I don’ know Jesus.” I’m acting as if I haven’t been forgiven of my own sins when I refuse to forgive others. I’m living without faith when I focus only on my strength and not on God’s. I’m denying the power and sovereignty of my Lord when I tremble before a world which seems out of control.
And then the rooster crows.
Peter felt great remorse when he realized that not only had he denied Jesus, but Jesus knew he would do so. “Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.’” Peter felt defeated and unworthy and had trouble giving his heart fully to Jesus again. I get that, because I’ve felt that way myself. But that kind of thinking misses the point.
Jesus knows you will fail – but he loves you anyway.
Jesus knows you will deny him by the way you live – but he died for you anyway.
Jesus knows you will sometimes give up, turn back, fall short, and fall apart – but he calls you to do his work anyway. In his strength. With his grace. Trusting in his sovereignty.
So the next time you hear the rooster crow and you realize you have been living in a way that says, “I don’t know Jesus,” don’t think of it as the gong at the end of a boxing match saying, “You lost; you’re out.” Think of it as the alarm ringing at the beginning of a new day saying, “It’s time to get up; there’s still work to do.”
To help you live every day like you do know Jesus, please check out my newly released book, Standing Firm: Are You Ready for the Battle?
What is my mission as an author? It's a tough question, but I believe the goal dearest to my heart is to help Christians think about what they really believe and then to act as if they really believe it. It all begins with understanding what it means to be a Christian. Then we have to learn to live like a Christian.